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The Spanish of El Salvador: Phrases, Phrases, & More

¡Puchica! You didn’t know that El Salvador celebrates the Day of the Dead too?

Look, whether you're here because you're taking a trip to El Salvador, or you're just curious - just know that El Salvador is from border to border 100% buena onda. (Good vibes)

From surf city to bitcoin beach, to the amazingly preserved colonial towns - El Salvador is a must-visit destination.

a picture of el salvador colonial town

The Spanish of El Salvador is a wonderful dialect with a nice balance between being standard enough to be understood by all, and colloquial phrases to spice up the day-to-day.

In this article we’re going to go over the “Vocabulario Salvadoreño” as well as their colloquial phrases, the use of “Voseo” and one tiny grammatical change that's commonly found.

Summary: The Spanish of El Salvador

The Spanish of El Salvador is a perfect balance between standard Spanish and so many colloquial words that it becomes a new language.

This dialect comes equipped with many fun words and phrases such as:

  • Bicho - Meaning a kid, or brat

  • Bayunco - Meaning a thing, crazy person, idiot, jokester, immature, etc.

  • Chivo - Meaning cool

  • Chero/a - Meaning a friend, pal, mate

  • Ser buena onda - To be a good person, vibe, time, or experience

  • Está bien yuka - By saying “its really yuka” (which is a vegetable if you don’t know) you’re saying the situation is very difficult

Beyond the words and phrases, El Salvadorians also utilize “Voseo” (like Argentina/Uruguay) meaning that, instead of saying “Tú” they say “Vos”.

a picture of the flag of el salvador

The Vocabulary:

El Salvadorian vocabulary is primarily derived from the Spanish language, as the country was colonized by Spain in the 16th century.

However, it also incorporates influences from indigenous languages such as Nahuatl, Pipil, and Lenca, which were spoken by the native populations before the arrival of the Spanish.

Additionally, El Salvadorian Spanish has been shaped by regional variations, cultural exchanges, and historical events, resulting in a unique blend of words and expressions specific to the country.

Bicho (Brat/Kid) 🙅‍♂️

Bicho, which means “Bug” in standard Spanish, is used to mean a “Brat” or a “Kid” in El Salvador: Such as in the sentence -

Acabo de ver esos bichos jugando en mi jardín.

(I just saw those brats (or kids) playing in my garden)

Cabal (Exactly/True!) 👍

The word Cabal in standard Spanish usually means something like “comprehensive”. However, in El Salvador, it means “Exactly” or “True” like in the sentence -

¿Vos sabés que quieren destruir nuestro país, sí? - “Sí cabal"

(You know that they want to destroy out country, right? - "yeah, exactly")

Vaya pues (Okay) 👌

In standard Spanish “vaya pues” means something like “well then”.

However in the Spanish of El Salvador “Vaya pues” means “Okay” like in the phrase -

Vamos a atacar en el oeste de la ciudad primero - “Vaya pues. Me parece un buen plan”

(We are going to attack the west of the city first - "Okay, it seems like a good plan")

Puchica (Damn!) 👀

Puchica is a word that is used all over Central America (minus Panama). Including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The word is used like this -

“´¡Puchica, ya cerró el supermercado!”

(Damnit! The supermarket is already closed!)

Chulo (Cute) 🥰

The word “Chulo” is also used in some parts of Mexico and means the same thing as it does in El Salvador. For example in El Salvadorian Spanish, you could say -

“Mira qué chulo el niño”

(Look, how cute is that boy)

Bayunco (Crazy) 🤡

According to El Salvadorians, the word “Bayunco” is extremely difficult to explain because of its diverse uses. For example, the word can mean jokester/immature/idiot/etc.

This word is not only of multi-use as it is but also comes in other forms such as the word “Bayuncada” meaning a thing (like vaina).

“Mira a ese bicho bailando como un bayunco”

(Look at that kid dancing like an idiot)

Dundo (Stupid) 😵

Dundo is used in Central America, The Dominican Republic, and Colombia to mean “Dumb”.

Although it looks like it might come from the word “Dumb”, it’s not believed that this is the case, one of the reasons being that it’s been in use since the 1500s.

“Pero qué dunda sos ¿Cómo vas a volver cómo ese bayunco?”

(You are so stupid, how are you going to get back together with that idiot?)

Chero/Chera (Friend/Pal) 🧍🧍‍♂️

These words are used in El Salvador and Honduras as well to mean something like “Pal”.

You know how in the Dominican Republic they say “Pana”, and in Argentina they say “Che”. This is the Salvadorian version - Chero/Chera

“Una de mis cheras me llevó a mi casa después de trabajar”

(One of my friends took me home from after work)

Chivo (Cool, or yes) 😎

I heard a Salvadorian explain to me that Chivo not only means “cool” but that they also use it as affirmation. So for example if somebody says -

“¿Tú quieres ir a la fiesta esta noche?” - “Sí, vaya chivo”

(Do you want to go to the party tonight? - "yeah, let's do it")

The Phrases That Are Unique to El Salvador:

El Salvador has a rich collection of unique phrases that reflect its culture and identity. If you are planning on visiting El Salvador, these are the must-know phrases!

picture of el salvadorian beach that says "phrases that are unique to el salvador"

Buena onda (Good vibe/time/person) 🌊

Buena onda can be used to describe a good experience, person, or time that you had. For example, it can be used such as in the sentence -

“Ay te va a gustar mucho Antonio, ese bayunco es buena onda”

(You're going to like Antonio, that jokester is a good guy)

Tener goma (To have a hangover) ☠️

“To have gum” refers to when you have a hangover. It’s used like in the sentence -

“Después de esta noche tendrás goma por 3 días.”

(After tonight you're going to be hung over for 3 days)

Está bien yuka (The situation is very difficult) 🙇‍♂️

This is another phrase that is very Salvadorian, but for some reason, you can’t find it on other Blog pages.

I don't know why “yuka” is used this way but it might be because it’s a tough vegetable.

“Ya no sabemos qué haremos para ganar dinero. La situación está bien yuka”

(We don't know what we will do for money anymore, the situation is very tough)

Así es la onda (This is the situation) 🌅

Así es la onda makes a lot of sense for us English speakers, meaning “the wave is like this”, it almost makes sense in English too.

This phrase might be used like this -

“No quieren que tengamos libertad, así es la onda y no podemos cambiarla”

(They don't want us to have freedom, this is the situation and we cannot change it)

Dar paja (To lie) 🤥

To “dar paja” literally means to give straw, but this phrase actually means to lie.

So for example you could say.

“No creo ni una palabra que me dijo, siempre me está dando paja”

(I don't believe one word that she told me, she's always lying to me)

Saluuu/Salud (Goodbye) 👋

Saying “Salud” is not really the weird thing about this, rather, it’s kind of interesting that the Salvadorians use this as a “goodbye”.

Usually in day-to-day speech, this means something like “cheers” or “good day. But here in El Salvador it's used like -

“okay nos vemos mañana, saluuud”

(Okay I'll see you tomorrow, byeee)

people going surfing in el salvador

The Spanish of El Salvador: Voseo

Voseo is a fascinating linguistic feature in Spanish that traces its origins back to medieval Castilian. It gained prominence in the 16th century and spread to various regions, including parts of Latin America, such as El Salvador.

Voseo involves the use of "vos" as the second-person singular pronoun, accompanied by its own verb conjugations.

Today, voseo is primarily found in countries like Argentina, Uruguay, and parts of Central America, adding an intriguing linguistic variation to the Spanish language.

So… What is “Voseo”? How do we use it?

Voseo is simple, it replaces the “Tú” with “Vos”.

When using voseo we utilize different conjugations than for “Tú” - but it’s not that difficult, hear me out. We take the “Vosotros” (Spain) conjugations, and we just take out the last vowel.

For example: “Vosotros pensáis” or “Vosotros sabéis” (The Spanish Vosotros Form)

would become “Vos pensás” and “Vos sabés” (In the Voseo Form)

The subtraction of (DE)

The last thing that occurs in (some parts of) the El Salvadorian Dialect is the dropping of “de” as a preposition. For example in the sentences:

  • Me alegro de que te hayas recuperado

  • No me dí cuenta de que habías venido

  • Estoy seguro de que esta vez todo saldrá bien

So many El Salvadorians wouldn’t pronounce those “De’s” which for many is a bit awkward, but it's not that big of a difference.

Conclusion: The Spanish of El Salvador

The Spanish spoken in El Salvador is one of the funnest dialects which contains many words and phrases that reflect the beauty of the Salvadorian culture. Could it be that because they have some of the greatest waves for surfing in the world - that they use the word wave to mean so many things?

I don’t know the answer, but I DO know that The Spanish of El Salvador is super chivo just like the humble people that speak it.

If you want to learn this vocabulary with flashcards, I made a deck for you that you can find and use below this paragraph - I hope this helps you!

If you enjoyed this article about the Spanish of El Salvador - Check out this one about "Choosing the Right Spanish Dialect".

I hope this helped you out, good luck with your learning!


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